The heady scent of tomato plants was heavy on the air and enveloped me as I stepped out of the car next to one of Cirio’s many tomato fields in Maremma, Albinia, Tuscany. The second week of May is still early in the growing season, and the plants were small, but still the scent was intoxicating. Seeing the tomato plants growing was another stage on my #TrueItalian journey.
The fragrance of tomato plants is largely indescribable; save for “tomatoey”. I’d never seen, or smelt tomatoes on this scale before and found their perfume compelling, even enchanting, with the promise of the long summer days and the reward of the plump red harvest to come.
I learnt that Cirio is part of Conserve Italia, one of Europe’s largest agri-food industries. In turn Conserve Italia is part of Confcooperative (Confederazione Co-operative Italiane), a co-operative of over 14,500 farmers. Cirio work closely with their farmers, providing seed, and timing their planting so harvesting times can be staggered and the canning factory receives a steady flow of tomatoes.
I am used, and expected to see the tall tomato plants which my parents grow, but these field grown tomatoes are vine tomatoes producing round full-sized fruit, which grow out sideways over the ground rather than upwards.
The plants are micro-irrigated (see pipe in the image above) which allows water to be supplied as the plant needs it and to minimise waste.
The tomatoes above are part of a trial where the area around the plant is covered with a biodegradable sheet. Cirio hopes that this new technique will help grow their crops in a more sustainable way by: –
- Conserving moisture and reducing the amount of water needed and wasted.
- Improving the fertility of the soil and reducing the need for, and using fertilizer more effectively.
- Reducing weed growth, and discouraging pests, thus reducing the need for pesticides.
- Providing better and more uniform conditions for the plants to lead to a more consistent growth so all plants are ready to be harvested at the same time.
Fields of Chickpeas
As well as being a valuable commercial crop chickpeas are an essential component of good farming practice and the science of crop rotation. Like all legumes chickpeas have nodules on their roots containing Rhizobium bacteria which “fix” or convert the relatively inert nitrogen in the air to a form which plants can use.
The fields of chickpeas barely need any fertilizer, and when harvested their roots and the Rhizobium are left in the ground leaving the fields rich in nitrogen compounds for the next crop to be grown, reducing its need for fertilizer.
When squeezed the unripe chickpea pods opened with a soft pop, each contained 2 or 3 unripe peas, which were sweet and tender. Once ripe the mature chickpea plants will be left to dry in the Tuscan sun before harvesting.
Crop Development and Trials
In order to produce the best crop and highest quality product possible Conserve Italia and Cirio, continuously grow and trial many different varieties of tomato. The three double rows of tomatoes above contain 45 different varieties. The company does not use or grow any GMO seed.